Level Up Your Leadership Skills: Be In Charge of Something

So you’ve figured out how to prioritize your work, be an awesome team member and lead from wherever you are in your organization. Now you’re ready to be in charge of something. There are a lot of things to coordinate in the library — managing a small purchase from your Friends of the Library group, spending some grant funds, chairing an internal committee or pulling off a larger project.

You may not have a lot of experience in the area you’re newly in charge of, but often that’s the best place to start — your experience and preconceived notions won’t get in your way. Here are some places to start when you’re put in charge of something:

If it’s a project, learn some basic project management strategies. Don’t be like me and get so completely overwhelmed by all the jargon and IT talk that you leave class completely distraught, just think about how you can learn some of the basics about project management. For example, create a project charter, which should include:

1. a charge (or what you’re supposed to achieve)
2. why you need to achieve it/what can you expect to happen when you achieve it (this is sometimes called the Business Case)
3. a timeline (when you need to do it by)
4. a list of stakeholders (who needs to be involved; who gives approval, etc)
5. a list or sentence about what’s out of the scope of your project (i.e. what things is your project NOT supposed to tackle — this can be extremely helpful when you or others start to get off track).
6. resources (what do you have to work with? Peoples’ time? Money?)

There are several project management software products that may be helpful, but you may also be able to use shared drive resources in your own library. Some that I’ve played around with are Basecamp and Trello. A crowdsourced Library Project Management Toolkit may also prove helpful

Learn some people management strategies. Your project will probably involve people of some kind and your project won’t succeed if you can’t figure out how to manage the people in and around your project. Depending on your project, you will need to run good meetings, communicate clear expectations, listen to stakeholders and support team members in their assignments. You will also need to communicate with your sponsor or other stakeholders in management about their expectations, update them on progress, and ask them for appropriate support along the way. Supporting the human side of project management isn’t necessarily new skills, it’s just using the same leadership skills you’re growing in a new way.

Find a mentor or someone to ask for advice. This doesn’t have to be a formal mentoring relationship, but you are going to need someone whose brain you can pick occasionally — an outside perspective that can help you navigate your work. This can be your supervisor, but often it’s helpful if it isn’t your supervisor — just so you get a new perspective.

Don’t be afraid of failure or what you don’t know. As you take on new roles and tasks, you won’t feel as confident about your next steps and you will probably make some mistakes along the way. Sometimes you’ll need to ask questions and proceed carefully, but proceed with confidence and learn as you go.

YALSA is a great way to get experience being part of teams and leading them. Appointments to strategic committees happens each spring, and Selection Committee appointments happens in the fall.

About Maureen Hartman

I am the Division Manager for Strategic Services at the Hennepin County Library in Minnesota and a former Board member for YALSA.
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